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What is a section 20 agreement and should I sign one?

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Child arrangements and coronavirus

Section 20 agreements allow the local authority to remove a child and place them in foster care without the need for a court order. Whether or not to enter into a section 20 agreement is a voluntary decision made by the parents with the local authority.  

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 states that the local authority have a duty to provide accommodation for any child who needs it as a result of:

a) there being no one with parental responsibility who can provide accommodation
b) a child being lost or abandoned
c) the person caring for the child cannot provide suitable accommodation or care.

Section 20 should not be used in the long term by the local authority because the court is responsible for the long-term plans of a child.

The local authority can only remove the child from the care of their parents in certain circumstances. The reasons to enter into a section 20 agreement are as follows:

  • the local authority is worried about your child’s safety
  • if you are currently unable to look after your child
  • the local authority is able to meet the needs of your child by providing them with a home

The accommodation is usually a foster care placement or a placement in a children’s home. The local authority has a duty to see if the child can be placed with other relatives or family friends also.

Section 20 agreements should not be obtained unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so and fully understands the consequences of giving consent and the range of choices available and what may happen if they refuse.

A parent with parental responsibility can refuse to enter into a section 20 agreement. If you do not agree to enter a section 20 agreement it is important to note that the local authority can apply to the court for a care order, which will allow the local authority to share parental responsibility of your child with you whereas, a section 20 agreement does not allow the local authority to share parental responsibility.

Section 20 agreements do not have a time limit however as previously stated they should not be used as a long-term solution. A parent can change their mind about a section 20 agreement at any time. If this happens the local authority must return your child to you as soon as possible.

If the local authority has asked you to sign a section 20 agreement to place your child in the care of the local authority, it is vital that you seek legal advice as soon as possible. It is important that you understand what is being asked of you and that you have been given all the relevant information. If you require help, please call Stephensons on 0161 696 6193.

By Nicola Horrocks, paralegal in the family law team